Finalists in Riverfront Design Competition present their visions

// Four teams exalt the river’s possibilities, both practical and grandiose //


How about a Mississippi flanked with robotic searchlights, beams crisscrossing in the night? Or floating barges transformed into community swimming pools and hot tubs? Maybe a new suite of islands, laced with visitor-friendly wetlands and marshes?

These were some of the pie-in-the-sky ideas presented last night at Walker Art Center, to a packed and eager audience, in one of the final stages of the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. Four design teams — finalists in the international competition, chosen from an initial pool of 55 applicants — had each been given $30,000 and about three months to develop their dream revamps of a 5.5-mile stretch of the Minneapolis riverfront, from the Stone Arch Bridge to the northern limits of the city.

On Jan. 27, each team revealed its vision, in stunning multi-media presentations. The event was so well attended that two overflow rooms, each equipped with a live feed of the lecture hall, had to be opened.

A jury of 13 design professionals, Park Board staff and city officials will announce a winner on Feb. 10. The winning team will receive a “commission” for a yet-to-be-determined riverfront park project, which the Park Board hopes will be the “crown jewel” of the Minneapolis park system.

The contest is organized by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, University of Minnesota College of Design and Walker Art Center.

Teams focused most of their energies on the grit and neglect of the northern riverfront — and the impoverished North neighborhoods nearby, which have been severed from the Mississippi by crumbling industrial sites and highway I-94.

“The current situation is disheartening,” said Chris Reed, who presented for Stoss Landscape Urbanism, a Boston-based firm.

Reed’s team, a three-city coalition of professionals from Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, proposed covering the highway with a retail distribution center and parking structure. The structure’s green roof would serve as a bridge connecting North’s urban areas to the riverfront, where refashioned barges would provide a community swimming pool and a floating amphitheater for performances.

TLS/KVA, a team based in Berkeley, Calif., wanted to cover I-94 with a land bridge, connecting Farview Park, at 26th and Lyndale Avenues North, to the river. The bridge would consist of “a great plane of green” stepping down from the city’s historic highest point: farmers markets and greenhouses, urban farms, a waterfront plaza and an amphitheater.

Principal Tom Leader proposed wetlands and an aquatic garden just south of the Lowry Avenue Bridge and a great urban beach near the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

His team also seemed to be the most realistic about the river’s current industrial topography.

“You can’t just move industry somewhere else,” said Sheila Kennedy, a principal of the TLS/KVA team.

The TLS/KVA vision also included molding degraded sediment into earthen beams for bike and pedestrian trails that would stretch over existing barge terminals.

Turenscape, a Beijing-based firm, solved the Northside problem with a covered pedestrian walkway connecting area schools to the Mississippi. The walkway would create an “education corridor,” where a new community college could be established to provide training for emerging green sector jobs. Turenscape also proposed restoring the Scherer Brothers site, between 8th and 10th Avenues Northeast, converting it into a accessible park with a diverse ecosystem.

Ken Smith Workshop, a New York-based team, proposed repurposing the old salt domes, concrete silos and other industrial structures near the end of Dowling Avenue North, converting them into museum satellites, a camera obscura theater, an eco lab — even an “extreme sports” facility, where neighbors could practice rock climbing and skateboarding.

Each firm prepared a video and related information for its proposal, which can be viewed online at